common tax questions for Aussie expats

A few common tax questions for Aussie expats

Life as an expatriate can be exciting and a true adventure – but that’s not to say it’s straightforward. That is particularly true for Aussie expats from a tax perspective, as it can be difficult to know exactly what to do to seamlessly hop between two complex tax systems.

So let’s go through some common tax questions for Aussie expats with some clear answers.

Q: I’ve lived outside of Australia for more than five years, but now I’m returning. How do I declare my income on an Australian tax return?

A: You are almost certainly now regarded as an Australian non-resident, so income you earned overseas is not taxable in Australia. Once you become a tax resident again, you’ll need to include your worldwide income in your Australian return. Prior to returning home though, we highly recommend that you take care and seek professional advice as there’s a few curly issues that can come back to bite you if you don’t plan your return carefully!

Q: I’ve just moved to a new country to work for a few years. Can I move my Australian super to a new pension fund in my new country?

A: As the Australian tax rules stand today, the quick answer is no – unless your new country is New Zealand. Otherwise, you will need to wait until retirement age.

Q: I left Australia but I remained an Australian home owner. I’m now thinking of selling my property, so will I be liable for Capital Gains Tax?

A: If you rented out your main residence, you have six years to sell it without being liable for Capital Gains Tax. But if you bought a new main residence somewhere else in the world, you will have to pay CGT.

Q: I’m an Australian citizen, but I want to buy an investment property in my new country of residence. Do I need to report anything for Australian tax purposes?

A: The Australian system basically regards foreign investment properties in the same way as Australian investment properties, for tax purposes. If the property earns income, it will generally be subject to tax in the country it is in, but if you’re an Australian tax resident, it will also need to be included in your Australian return. If you’ve paid tax in that other country on that same rental income, you’ll also be eligible for a tax credit in your Australian return so that no double-taxation occurs. This can be a tricky subject, so it might be a good idea to get some professional advice.

Q: I’m living overseas, but I want to send a lump sum back to an Australian bank account – will I have to pay tax on it?

A: Probably not, because it’s likely you are no longer regarded as an Australian tax resident. But if you sold assets in your new country that were converted to cash, there will most likely be a tax liability in the country where you sold them. Again, taxation can be complicated, so it’s always a good idea to seek some advice before doing so.

Need more assistance with common expat tax FAQs? Contact us today to make sure everything’s clear so you can be left to enjoy your new adventures abroad, tax worry-free.

Shane Macfarlane CA
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Comments 8

  1. Hi Shane,
    I would love some clarity relating to the above…
    From what I can gather, the ATO would consider me a non-resident for tax purposes, therefore I understand from your replies above that Australia will not tax my income if it is not from an Australian source. I am living in Canada for the foreseeable future and have an online consulting business with clients internationally, so if Australian clients have paid consultations with me, is that considered Australian-sourced income, which I would need to then declare to the ATO?
    Many thanks for your help

    1. Hi Emma,

      Generally where the consultation is done (IE where you are) will be the source of the income.

      If you are a non-resident then it wouldn’t be taxable in Australia. Further to this the tax treaty between Australia and Canada has an article relating to business income which will further clarify which country can tax your consulting income.



  2. Prior to the pandemic I was working on cruise ships for a US company. I spoke to a fellow australian crew member on one particular ship and asked him if he declares his income. He said that his acccountant told him he is not required to declare his income as it is earned in international waters and therefore not in a specific country. What is your take on this?
    I have always declared my income from cruise ship work because my accountant told me I had to, but this makes me curious if perhaps I never had to?

    1. Hi Joel,

      Thanks for your question I hope you are managing ok through the pandemic, it must be a very difficult time.

      The answer to the question will depend on your tax residency status in Australia. Australian tax residents are assessed on their worldwide income, so it doesn’t matter that where the income is generated, Australia would tax that income, even if it is earnt in international waters.

      Non-residents however are only taxed on Australian sourced income, so income earnt outside of Australia (including international waters) wouldn’t be assessable in Australia.

      It is very rare that cruiseship workers will be non-residents because of the tough residency laws in Australia.

      Under the ‘Domicile Test’ if your domicile is Australia (broadly, if you were born in Australia, if you have an Australian passport or if Australia is broadly considered to be your permanent home), then you WILL remain a tax resident of Australia unless you have a ‘permanent place of abode outside of Australia’.

      Unfortunately crew quarters on cruise ships and super-yachts are generally regarded by the ATO as being temporary and/or transitory in nature and therefore are not considered to be your permanent home.

      Thus, most crew-members fail to meet the criteria of having a ‘permanent place of abode outside Australia’ and thus remain tax residents of Australia by default. Sadly, this typically applies no matter how long you’ve stayed on-board and how long you’ve worked overseas in that role.

      You can read more about this topic in our blog ‘Super-yacht crew – is my income tax-free?’

      Please get in contact with our team if you or your crew member would like to discuss.



  3. Regarding working on cruise ships if I work away for 4 months on 2 months off on cruise ships registered Bahamas is the money I earn subject to tax in Australia or is it tax exempt due to wages being earnt in international waters and no specific country and all so being away from Australia for periods greater than 100 days if it is taxed in Australia what is rate it is taxed at

    1. Post

      Hi John,

      Unfortunately the issue has nothing to do whether you earned your salary in international waters, instead it has to do with your residency status for Australian taxation purposes. In short, if you remain a resident for Australian taxation purposes or not.

      If so, the bad news is that you’ll be taxed on your worldwide income, no matter whether you earn that income in international waters or not!. To learn more, take a look at an article that I wrote earlier Super-yacht crew – is my income tax-free? as this very much applies to your circumstances.

      Regarding the tax rates that would apply, Australia’s marginal tax rates would apply to your income (as your income would be fully taxable by Australia). – take a look at Australia’s personal income tax rates.

      Just as a final comment, many cruise ship workers totally get their taxes wrong sadly and even more sadly, those mistakes often cost them literally tens of thousands of dollars per year! Accordingly, we highly recommend that you and other cruise ship workers, super-yacht employees etc always seek Australian taxation advice to ensure that you structure your circumstances appropriately and get things right form the outset. Doing so can literally save you a tonne of cash and a tonne of heartache and stress, right from the get go.

      If you’re about to head-off and take up a role on a cruise-ship or super-yacht, we highly recommend that you book an “Outbound Expat” tax appointment, or if you’re already overseas, book an “Expat already overseas” tax consultation with us to sort out your Australian taxes, to understand the rules and how they apply to you, and to structure your circumstances in such a way as to minimise any taxes payable.

      So, if you would like to book a phone consultation/discussion with us and understand how everything works, please feel free to do so via

      Hopefully that helps.

      Thanks again for your question.



  4. Hi ,, just a bit of clarification on your response to the above answer
    “Once you become a tax resident again, you’ll need to include your worldwide income in your Australian return”

    Does this mean that we will be taxed on all the money we have saved while working overseas if we transfer it back to Australia on return? We would have been classified Non Australian residents for tax ,. We have been living, and just my husband working in Macau for the past 2 years.

    1. Post

      Hi Janet,

      As you can imagine, to answer you properly we’d need to learn a lot more about your circumstances, however, I’ll do my best to explain in a general sense how things work.

      Typically, if a person lived and worked overseas as a non-resident for Australian taxation purposes, then Australia does not have any taxing rights over the income generated outside of Australia. Following on from this, any savings that a person generates as a result of working overseas as a non-resident, is also out of Australia’s taxing jurisdiction. This means that a person can safely bring their savings back to Australia and so long as those savings did not have an Australian source, these will be deemed to be after-tax savings and thus not subject to tax in Australia.

      What is critical however, is that the person, genuinely was a non-resident of Australia for the time period in question, and secondly that the income did not have an Australian source.

      Hope that helps.



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